Archive for June, 2011

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Review: Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead by Sara Gran

June 8, 2011

Laura Ellen Scott, an occasional contributor to Art & Literature, takes a look at Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead, a New Orleans-set mystery novel that was garnering critical acclaim and high praise from readers even before its publication last week. Scott has the inside scoop on stories set in New Orleans; her own forthcoming novel, Death Wishing, is set in the French Quarter, post-Katrina; that book is due in October. — Art Taylor

Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead

By Sara Gran

Reviewed by Laura Ellen Scott

What happens to girl detectives when they grow up? According to Sara Gran’s marvelous Claire DeWitt and The City of The Dead, your basic Nancy Drew type is in for dark days in her middle age. Narrated by the tattooed, drug using title character, Gran’s new mystery is dark, tough, and a bit magical as she writes convincingly of New Orleans as a PTSD-ridden city in which detectives are ethereal, gifted, and mystically inclined.

Unironically identified as the world’s greatest PI, Claire DeWitt is a devotee of Jacque Silette’s Détection, the enigmatic manual she carries with her at all times. Using dreams, drugs, and the I Ching as her primary investigative tools, DeWitt’s interpretation of Silette’s philosophy is that a detective needs to see as much as possible by any means possible:

“When a person disappears,” Silette wrote in Detection, “the detective must look at what she took with her when she left—not only the material items, but what is gone without her; what she carries with her to the underworld; what words will go unspoken; what no longer exists if she is made to disappear.”

Barely recovered from a nervous breakdown caused by extensive fasting and drug use, DeWitt takes on a two-year-old missing persons case in New Orleans, the city of her training. She hasn’t been back since her mentor, the previous number one detective in the world, was shot to death in a French Quarter restaurant. Now DeWitt has returned to investigate the disappearance of a successful New Orleans DA named Vic Willing who seems to have made it through Katrina but perhaps not the cultural devastation of its aftermath.

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Review: The Devil’s Light by Richard North Patterson

June 2, 2011

I can’t help but wonder what Richard North Patterson thought as he watched the breaking news about Osama bin Laden’s death — just scant hours before the release of Patterson’s new novel about al Qaeda and the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden isn’t the central character of The Devil’s Light, but he certainly plays a key role and serves as a looming threat. So was the novel undone by the headlines? Or is there still a relevance and maybe even an urgency to the story? Here’s an excerpt of my review of the new book at AARP:

Set in August and September of 2011, the novel conjures up a nightmare scenario in which al Qaeda gets its hands on a nuclear bomb — the “devil’s light” of the book’s title. The group’s resulting schemes threaten new levels of destruction, sending shockwaves of fear across the United States and around the world. Controlling events from the shadows stands Osama bin Laden, hiding out in Pakistan as his myrmidons unleash a plot to “fill the world with awe, our enemies with dread.”

U.S. Navy SEALs may have shot a hole (or two) in the plot of Patterson’s latest — and it’s tough not to read the early chapters without that awareness — but you’ll be surprised by how little recent real-world events defuse the terrifying possibilities outlined in these pages. Indeed, much of the prose here meshes all too plausibly with the headlines you’ll find in most any newspaper, a testament to the author’s thorough research and precise plotting.

Read the full review here. — Art Taylor

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